I have wanted to write for weeks, but lacked time or mental disponibility. Yet, now I am here, I can’t remember any of the things which were burning my fingertips. Writing in English this evening feels like learning ice-skating: a graceless muscle-wringing exercise, where not falling flat on the face is the best one can hope for. Maybe with a quasi-haiku?
Bees on the wing
Spring’s last breath
A few months ago, I was getting used to the idea that this Spring would be my first without gardening. New job (alas temporary), children and lack of sleep would make sure of that. After last year’s changes to the layout, which I hesitate to call major as they would make any owner of a bigger garden smile, I consoled myself with the thought my plants would probably welcome the absence of an ever restless gardener, always intent on moving them at the wrong time of the year. Then came the virus which threw society upside down. And so, this Spring, between the morning live lessons on Teams and the afternoon sessions on Zoom, I am a bit pleasantly surprised to find myself sitting on the chair near the shed, bathing in honey wisteria scent, picking up jewel-like beetles from the rosemary bush.
It is hot. Midday buzzes. My arms and hands, browner by the minute, already look like someone else’s – a seafarer’s, maybe.
On my left stands a big pot housing eight purple alliums just about to burst open. They clearly benefitted from the loose compost which kept them dry over winter. Suddenly, an urge seizes me to excavate them. The next minute, I am praying to find suitable gaps in the Summer border in which to plant them. Surrounded by orange geum flowers and the surging foliage of bronze fennel, verbena, globe thistle and love-in-the-mist, the alliums’ heads now seem to float in a feathery cloud. For the first time, I feel this is actually what I was waiting for, an effect of density yet lightness with pops of bright colours. The self-seeded aquilegias, nodding from the height of their long stalks, soon join the scene.
Ants are drawing abstract patterns around my chair. Hardly noticeable in the past, they started to favour our garden two years ago and have since multiplied. Somehow, I tend to see ants as equals and therefore respect them, but am unconvinced they don’t harm plants with their tunnelling and particularly resent them undermining my efforts with aphids. I tried to discourage them last year (euphemism). I soon learnt there was no way I could win that battle and I let them rule the garden, only fighting them on aphid-infested plants. Songbirds, who sometimes come and help, are the gods I pray to, these days. Among them, my regular visitors are Nenette (Mrs Blackbird), her more discreet husband, and one or two handful of chatty sparrows. Starlings and tits are scarcer this year. The beloved song thrush only paid me one elusive visit, a long time ago, but we were lucky enough to hear and see it near the railway line. Last year’s disciplinary action against the ivy has deprived us of the robin’s nest, yet the blackbirds are still busy in the firethorn. Not everybody is elegant and vivacious. The woodpigeons, for instance, I find noisy, clumsy and rude. Everytime I see them, a Southwestern French dish with rich plum sauce comes to mind. As for the jackdaws who live in our chimneys, who clearly are thinking birds, I can well picture them in the study, their sky blue eye scanning some old map or treatise of philosophy. Between them and the three pretty frogs (Nouille and the two smaller Nouillettes) who live in our pond, we feel blessed. And then there is Sir Isaac’s wife, who, you’ll have to agree, is a lady of great beauty.
The day I took the picture below, something was beckoning, asking to be written. Something was in that afternoon’s amber glow.
The garden seemed to have reached a state of self-expression, to have found its language, my clumsy, random efforts slowly absorbed in the growth. I have many plants to thank for that, but probably none as much as the euphorbias – two plants only, growing under the ceanothus (plus two minute cuttings), a euphorbia characias wulfenii and a fancy thing named Ascot Rainbow which has been absolutely gorgeous all Winter and even more since it has flowered. The happy voisinage of their lime green flowers with the purple honesty was a source of joy, and now, it somehow even agrees with the viburnum plicatum’s white lace.
Like the fennel in the Summer bed, their volume and shape help create this impression of a vaporous mass. I think I may have found the word for my desired garden : I want it to be a cloud, enveloping me with height, volume, lightness, blurry lines, luminosity. Opening before the path like the sea parting for the Hebrews. Not so easy when the garden is small and very narrow.
I was helped by the pleasant surprise of Shasta daisies (below), almost as tall as me, grown from a packet of “Mixed White Flowers” seeds sown last year.
They bring an air of wind-ruffled fields to my small border. To think I used to dislike daisy-like flowers, assuming a taste for complex and blousy blooms showed desirable sophistication. I shrug when people advise me to make my French prose more widely acceptable by shortening my sentences and banning words a regular twelve-year-old wouldn’t use daily (why on Earth ? Plenty of people write that sort of things with an absence of second thoughts which is necessary to make it readable. I admire simplicity greatly, but it isn’t achieved by the process described). However, in my garden, experience definitely taught me to enjoy the truthfulness of very simple flowers, their powerful innocence. Actually, I think it is an English thing, a mistrust of complexity seen as a sure sign of moral decadence – frivolity, superficiality, or worse. A well-engrained rest of puritanism which has seeped into my judgement.
Yet, what was vibrating under that late afternoon’s thin golden veil was something else, something coming at the same time from incredibly far and from deep within. If the good weather holds during this half-term holiday, I may endeavour to dip my pen in the sunshine and try to capture some of it.
And one for the road : the beauty of self-seeders.